Over the course over the next month or so, we’ll be chatting with a few different writers around the division to gauge how the team they cover has been performing since the end of the season.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES:
How would you grade the Panthers’ offseason?
The Panthers have done well to remain well under the radar this offseason after 2 consecutive offseasons full of bad public relations. I would give their offseason a B. Others might grant more credit to the Panthers for snagging a talented top 6 winger (something the Panthers really needed) in Mike Hoffman, but I recognize that Hoffman was damaged goods the way he left town from Ottawa. If praise is due when unskilled “good character guys” are brought into the locker room, shouldn’t the inverse apply when admittedly talented players with character issues are welcomed? The other moves the team made were largely insignificant; Tallon should lose some of the points he earned by maneuvering a sneaky three team trade to snag Hoffman because he hasn’t managed to deal with the glut of replacement level veterans (McGinn, MacKenzie, Haley) that are blocking spots for promising young Forwards on the roster.
How would you grade the Leafs’ offseason?
At the moment, It’s hard to give the Leafs offseason anything other than an A here. How much credit the team deserves for signing John Tavares could be questioned (it didn’t take a genius to identify him as a target) but the management team certainly deserves all the credit in the world for making a very attractive pitch to Tavares. Trading away Matt Martin’s contract albatross for essentially nothing (an ECHL goalie) was another move that looks very productive for Dubas and company. Toronto has some nice forwards in their pipeline, but many are well suited to develop in the AHL at the moment, and in the meantime, signing Tyler Ennis is a worthwhile risk. The Leafs can make a significant misstep in this offseason if they decide to offer William Nylander a bridge deal rather than lock him up to a long term contract. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s worth nothing their grade would decrease should they misplay their hand there.
When does the Panthers “window” open?
I largely believe the Panthers window truly opens in 2019-20 – when their main division rivals will have to deal with an influx of extensions due to some of their top players (seriously, Point, Vasilevskiy, Kucherov, Matthews AND Marner will ALL see their cap hits skyrocket next offseason). The main pitfall to saying that is the Panthers’ goalie position becomes an issue in 2019, when Roberto Luongo will be 40. Leafs and Panthers fans alike have come to appreciate what James Reimer offers, but both can probably agree; he’s not a goalie a non-juggernaut can win a stanley cup with. But the Panthers’ RFA “core” of Sasha Barkov, Vinny Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau have 3 of the best contracts in the league. If you’re still a believer in Aaron Ekblad (I’m not really one), you might point to his room to grow into a more proficient d-man in the years to come. The Panthers also have some other nice young pieces in Henrik Borgstrom, Mike Matheson, Denis Malgin, Jared McCann, and other prospects that can become impact players for them at a bargain price during this window.
If these teams matchup in the playoffs, what do you see being the difference?
I think it’s fair to say both these teams are now fairly top heavy, and a key injury could be the decisive factor if the Leafs were to face off against the Panthers in a playoff round. The absence of Auston Matthews or Aleksander Barkov could make all the difference in a 7-game series.
Is the Atlantic Division still a three horse race in your eyes?
I’ve seen some Panthers prognosticators say that the Panthers have officially become a contender in this division, but around the league, analysts largely don’t agree. I think I fall on the latter side. Trouble is coming in the form of cap hell for the Leafs and Lightning, and I think the Bruins can’t be contenders with a 30+ year old core forever. But the Panthers have too many problems; a very bad top defensive pairing, poor bottom 6 forward usage, and middling special teams would be the three most prominent I would raise. Don’t be surprised to see the Panthers still playing when the playoffs start next April, but don’t underestimate the Lightning, Leafs and Bruins yet.
Late last season the Panthers signed their top prospect Henrik Borgstrom to an ELC straight out of college. Yet Borgstrom found himself scratched for the first three hc Throme games when he was under contract. This was a huge point of frustration for Panthers fans who had grown very similar frustrations early in the season. This team played Derek MacKenzie and Michael Haley, two of the league’s bottom 20 players in
@CMHockey66‘s GAR ratings, a combined 150 games each last year. Yet both Jared McCann and Denis Malgin both found themselves healthy scratches at various points of the season. So here’s the point about Troy Brouwer; he’s almost certainly going to be blocking a young, exciting fan favorite from playing, much like MacKenzie and Haley were already doing. He adds to the glut of sub replacement level veterans taking up spots in the Panthers’ bottom 6 lineup that, again, could be going to developing young talent. And let’s not mince words about Brouwer; he’s been a replacement level player ever since he donned the Calgary jersey in 2016-17, the season he turned 31. He’s now 33 and surely getting worse.
Anything else to add?
Bovada has the team’s over/under points total as 94.5. I see the Panthers right around that 94 point mark, and think they will straggle the playoff line all year ultimately getting in one of the two wild card spots. – Since I mentioned over/unders, a gambling tip I love: Aleksander Barkov to win the Hart at 100/1. He was a bonafide Hart candidate already last year, is arguably a top 10 player in the league, and is the type of player that always seems to win the Hart (best player on a mediocre team). He plays as many minutes as any other forward in the league and does everything well. If the Panthers have another shockingly good season, a la 15/16, Barkov will likely be the biggest reason why and a few bucks on him to win the league MVP at 100/1 could bring a huge return – If you’re an http://NHL.tv user, you might want to tune into Panthers games to watch Henrik Borgstrom. The youngster has a knack for scoring very visually pleasing goals. He might be worth another flyer bet for the Calder trophy, but I think his game will take some time to adjust to the NHL pace of play.